So, Do Calorie Counts On Menus Help People Make Better Choices? Or Not?

There have been two recent studies concerning NYC’s menu labeling law. One said that the posted calorie counts had no effect — and the other disagrees. So, who is right?

Turns out they both may be. The first study concentrated on low-income neighborhoods where obesity is a real problem — but where the customers are “price sensitive.” The other study, done by the Department of Health, was city wide and included many more transactions.

From the NYT:

Last week, city health officials delivered a more upbeat assessment, saying New Yorkers ordered fewer calories at four chains – Au Bon Pain, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks – after the law went into effect last year.

The changes reported by the city health department’s preliminary data were modest, indicating little change either way in the number of calories bought at 8 of 13 chains surveyed, and a significant increase in calories ordered at Subway, which researchers attributed to a continuing $5 promotional special on footlong sandwiches that has tripled demand for them.

Subway led the way on menu labeling while other chains resisted. It seems they understood that posting calories wasn’t going to hurt business — not when there are $5 footlongs to be had.

It seems that you can put lots of numbers on a menu, but people are still going to look at the ones that come after the dollar sign.

How Posted Calories Affect Food Orders [NYT]